Update: Residents of The Woodlands, Shenandoah share concerns about proposed Research Forest Drive underpass

Residents from both The Woodlands and Shenandoah attended a meeting Oct. 23 hosted by The Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch and Director Bruce Rieser to discuss concerns regarding the proposed Research Forest Drive underpass.

Residents from both The Woodlands and Shenandoah attended a meeting Oct. 23 hosted by The Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch and Director Bruce Rieser to discuss concerns regarding the proposed Research Forest Drive underpass.

Updated Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.
The Woodlands Township board of directors have denied a request for a letter of support for an underpass at the intersection of Research Forest Drive and Grogans Mill Road.

During their Oct. 24 meeting, township officials expressed concerns about the project, citing that $24 million was too much to spend on one intersection, adding the intersection could be improved by making at-grade adjustments, such as adding additional lanes and improving surrounding intersections, which could be completed for less money than the project proposed for funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council's Transportation Improvement Program, according to estimates from Brown & Gay Engineering.

Several residents from The Woodlands Township spoke in opposition of the project during last night's meeting and the township's Oct. 18 meeting, prompting township members to request additional information on the project. While the township does not have jurisdiction over the intersection, letters of support are requested from local entities as part of the H-GAC application process.

Township chairman Gordy Bunch said the township could not approve a resolution of support for the project without resident consensus.

"I’m willing to do the at-grade intersections now and whole-heartedly support that both intersections being improved as expanded and designed and illustrated today," Bunch said. "Our job here—we’re elected by the people we represent—we don’t have the consensus on the underpass design from the people immediately adjacent to it. One commercial group, the Hyatt has sent us multiple letters saying they are absolutely adamantly opposed to it—they are a taxpayer. The residents within Prosewood—they are taxpayers and they have petitioned—500 signatures on a petition."

However, Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack released a statement this evening, citing at-grade improvements would only be a short-term fix and would not improve the safety of the intersection, which has been called the second most dangerous in the county.

"In consulting with the lead engineer, Isaac Joskowicz, PhD, PE, PTOE, of BGE Inc., who completed the South Montgomery County Mobility Study and evaluated all options of the Research Forest-Grogan’s Mill intersection, it was determined that adding at-grade lanes to this intersection, thus widening it to eight lanes, does nothing to improve the safety of the intersection," Noack said. "Simply expanding this intersection to eight lanes will increase the potential for more accidents. Also, just three-tenths of a mile to the west, Research Forest would abruptly transition to three lanes, creating potential  for more congestion."

Noack said he will continue to seek feedback from the entire community on proposed plans for the intersection.

For more background information on the proposed Research Forest Underpass, see additional coverage on the project below.

Posted Oct. 24 at 4 p.m.: Residents from both The Woodlands and Shenandoah attended a meeting Oct. 23 hosted by The Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch and Director Bruce Rieser to discuss concerns regarding the proposed Research Forest Drive underpass.

As the deadline for submissions for the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Improvement Program approaches, a proposed underpass at Research Forest Drive and Grogans Mill Road has been a topic of discussion among many local bodies of governments as well as residents over the past few months.

The proposed underpass would be a six-lane, two-way road running east to west on Research Forest Drive below Grogans Mill Road. The proposed design also includes the existing at-grade lanes. If selected, the $24 million project would be funded heavily through the H-GAC and the Woodlands Road Utility District, and minimally through the county.

Following a township meeting Oct. 18, during which the board of directors tabled action on a resolution of support for the project, many residents expressed concerns about whether an underpass was the most efficient, cost-effective solution to address safety and mobility issues at the intersection, and whether busier intersections should take priority over Research Forest and Grogans Mill.

Robert Heineman, vice president of planning for The Woodlands Development Company, gave the presentation on the engineering work conducted by Brown & Gay Engineers.

The presentation included updated projected average daily traffic volumes for both the intersections of Research Forest Drive and Grogans Mill Road and the intersection of Lake Woodlands Drive and Grogans Mill Road, which are lower than data previously utilized in the study.

Although the projected average daily traffic volumes were updated, the level of service grades for the various intersection designs were not updated accordingly, which raised questions about the study’s validity for some.

“My questions are critical of the analysis and the lack of alternative analysis and the inconsistency of the data,” Bunch said. “The township tomorrow has an agenda item to decide if they want to pass a resolution of support or not [but the WRUD] can still submit the project [without a resolution of support]. The township has no road authority.”

Some of the concerns raised by residents included whether other busier intersections should take priority over the Research Forest Drive and Grogans Mill Road intersection—such as Lake Woodlands Drive and Grogans Mill Road, I-45 and Research Forest Drive, or Lake Woodlands Drive and I-45.

“I think we could ease a lot of folks minds in here if we worked on intersections at I-45 and Research and back to Grogans Mill and Research… and Lake Woodlands and Grogans Mill, if we could get those done and then maybe we could support your underpass,” Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley said. “But you’ve got to start at the problem and work your way back to where we’re going.”

During the meeting, it also came to light that an at-grade solution might, once again, be a possible option.  Shenandoah Mayor Ritch Wheeler said he had been previously told that the WRUD would not fund an at-grade single-point intersection, which was why the Shenandoah City Council previously passed an resolution of support for an underpass.

However, Rieser, who serves on the WRUD, said during the entity’s most recent meeting, an at-grade solution for the intersection was proposed for the first time.

“If [the single point at-grade] intersection is on the table again, then that changes the landscape drastically,” Wheeler said.

In agreement with Bunch, Reiser likewise said he felt the project needed to be more thoroughly studied.

“I’m here with Gordy because I agree with him,” Rieser said. "I don’t think we’ve done enough work on this to really understand it. I understand the point of going through the TIP process and finding out if this project is even eligible for funding… [but] this whole thing could be moot come sometime next year.”

Riley serves as a board member on the H-GAC board of directors and said he would take into consideration the concerns expressed during the meeting in the upcoming project vetting process.

“I do sit on that board [and] I can’t ignore what’s going on here tonight,” Riley said. “I can’t ignore the fact that there are over 500 people who have signed a petition against this [and] I can’t ignore the fact that I’m hearing so many different numbers here, that I don’t know who’s got the right number. So when we weigh in on that, all of that’s going to have to be discussed when this thing goes to get scored.”

The township board of directors will reconsider the resolution of support at the Oct. 24 meeting.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


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